#3 Cristian Roldan
Realio’s rating: 6.69 in 29 appearances
Community rating: 7.00
Regular Season: 6.64 in 28 appearances — Playoff: 8.00 in 1 appearance
MOTM = 6 Reg Season, 1 Playoffs High = 8 Low =5
Cristian Roldan moved forward a line for most of 2021 and showed dynamic creation from the 10 and as a wide attacking player. Tactically brilliant, Roldan showed that his understanding of the game allows him to excel at pretty much any position. With Seattle needing a scoring threat, he often slotted into the attacking band, making diagonal wide runs into the corners and attacking from very advanced positions. Cristian ended the year with a stellar 6g/6a, adding 35 key passes, and having the second-best creation rate on the team. He also added considerable defensive bite from the front, consistently disrupting opponents with his pressure: over 350 pressures in the mid and attacking thirds this season.
What I liked: Cristian always steps up his game when it matters, and he did so against big opponents this year. Starting with a MOTM performance in the season opener to make a statement on the season, he tallied five more and added another in the playoff game. Late in the season, when Seattle was struggling, Roldan won MOTM three games in a row as he tried to heroically carry the team on his back. But I want to focus on the playoff match, where Roldan stood out, and, significantly for 2022, played in the position where we expect to see him this coming season. Cristian started at defensive midfielder next to João Paulo and I said this: “Roldan moved back to the central midfield and looked at home, driving the team into their most dangerous areas and showing incredible two-way play. Nearly everything good that happened in this match came from intelligent movement by Cristian and his distribution to and from all over the field. He led the team in tackles with three, led the team in shots with three, and added two key passes on 101 active touches.” Any prior questions about how he and JP would play together were answered. Defensively, they combined to dominate the middle, and Roldan showed he still has the defensive intensity and strength-plus-tackling ability to be a strong presence centrally. Offensively, even starting at a deep lying midfield position, Cristian led the team in shots and dropped multiple key passes. This showed how effectively he can impact the match’s offense from midfield, as much of his advanced play can be duplicated by attacking runs that start deeper. Roldan’s fitness, burst, and tactical acumen allow him to be a dominant attacking force even when dropped a line, and without conceding defensive responsibilities. He is that damn good.
What I didn’t like: Seattle needed offensive help, and Roldan got pushed up into the attack for most of 2021. An able runner, Cristian is a direct creator for self and teammates, but became predictable as an outside attacker. While he had success running inside out and displaying his excellent crossing ability, other attacking actions didn’t show in his play. That became a bit of a broken record, and teams found that forcing him wide and then winning crossed headers was a way to neutralize his offensive impact. When Cristian couldn’t get to the end line and cross, he became somewhat of an afterthought, working hard but not getting offensive touches nor having the pure creativity to do it himself. Making these wide runs later in the season cut off overlapping runs from the wingback (usually Alex Roldan), stunting the team’s creation from wide areas. It’s odd to complain about impact from someone who had as much overall influence as he did, but as a purely offensive player, Roldan faded from view on numerous occasions.
Moving forward: I’ve long been a believer that the JP/CR pairing is the future, and the future is now. In-form JP and Roldan should cover an immense amount of ground, both able to stoutly defend but also surge forward and overload attacking areas. With the amount of skill invested into the attacking group, it might be tempting to overlook the central defenders, but the success of the team will likely depend on how well players like Roldan can be lynchpins for the squad. It will be his job to defend everything across the center in front of the defense, link through the midfield, spring players up the wings and through, and join the attack as 3rd and 4th man runs to overload defenses. That’s all.
Realio’s rating: 6.74 in 34 appearances
Community rating: 6.83
Regular Season: 6.73 in 33 appearances — Playoff: 7.00 in 1 appearance
MOTM = 1 High = 8 Low = 4
Checking in at #2 in my ratings for a second straight season is the indomitable Yeimar. He was nearly flawless once again in 2021, showing a glorious combination of size, speed, and anticipation that made him a league-wide Defensive Player of the Year candidate. His pressures, tackles, interceptions, clearances, and aerials won were all elite, ranking at the top of all MLS defensive players in nearly every defensive category.
What I liked: Much of Seattle’s defensive success centered around Yeimar, who was able to cover incredible swaths of the pitch almost single-handedly. His ability to stick with any runner through the defense for speed was dominant, rarely (if ever) getting beat in behind. At the same time, his massive size allowed him to body opponents, and Yeimar used his strength to physically deny entry into the box. I didn’t note a single time he lost an aerial duel, completely dominating any cross into his vicinity. Surprisingly, he only earned a single MOTM from my ratings, coming against Portland in May: “He was dominant in nearly every facet. He had 18 defensive actions including three tackles, two interceptions and a game-high nine clearances … Defensively, Yeimar won everything. He had four aerials gained, continually dominating any cross into the box. He was constantly thwarting pressure by showing superior anticipation and athletic skill, jumping passing lanes and using his size and speed to cut out opponents. His closing ability is incredible, getting into adversaries before they know what to do, and by then YGA has stolen possession and pushed the ball to a teammate.“ Switching to a three-back formation just created more space for him to dominate, as Yeimar’s speed and anticipation allowed him to stop attacks before they started. He led the league in interceptions (by 13!) showing elite skill in cutting out infiltration attempts by opponents. Combining with Alex Roldan, the right side was a wasteland for chance creation by opponents who found it near-impossible to penetrate into dangerous areas as both were aggressive defensively to great advantage and cut down passing lanes with aplomb.
What I didn’t like: If there is one Achilles heel for Yeimar it is his passing, which is the only thing holding him back from being a truly elite defender who is likely too good for MLS. A penchant for almost random passing errors plagues him nearly every match at least once. His worst appearance on the season came against rivals Portland at home, in a match that the Timbers won 2-0. Both goals were due to poor back passes from Yeimar, and he nearly had a third. Yeimar’s passing has long been documented as a weakness, and this game had a perfect storm of miscue passing and poor decision making, often facing his own goal. This penchant for wayward passes luckily was rarely punished by opponents, often being marked down in game notes as “yet another Yeimar passing gaffe,” but it was a fairly consistent problem. His 81 percent completion rate on the year was well behind other defensive players who were cleaner with the ball. At times he got overly aggressive, charging forward into space to hold in opponents from counter attacking, which left gaps behind and created a fair number of nervy moments just past midfield.
Moving forward: Yeimar getting called up to the Colombian national team isn’t a surprise to Sounders fans who have seen how great he’s been in his two seasons here. Still on the right side of 30, this player is consistently one of the very best players in the league and has shown zero drop-off in his play after a spectacular introduction to MLS. Capable of playing inside or wide, his positional flexibility and ability to cover large areas should allow Seattle to press midfielders into attack to support where needed. Yeimar will be in the running for top defender in the league every season he is healthy.